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Recollections of early Dolores by Erastus Thompson

Editor’s note: This column is the first of two parts about life in early Dolores, Colorado. Part 2 will continue in The Journal on March 2.By Erastus Thompson

I was born in Iowa in March 1858, and I first came to Denver about 1862. My father furnished government horses for the “Colorado First and Second.” He also had freight outfits. He owned six four-mule teams.

In about 1863, he moved his family to Denver to live. There were a good many hostile tribes, but we were never near where there was much fighting. However, in 1863 when we were moving to Denver, Indians wounded some people near Fort Kearney, Nebraska. I will always remember when the Indians killed Lon Hungate and his two children as I knew Holgate as a boy my age would. Colonel (John) Chivington, head of the Colorado First, raised the Colorado Second and he called for hundred-day men. He followed the Indians with his men and wiped them all out and was discharged from the army after being court-martialed for it. The Indians used to come on down the ridge where they could look over Denver and the people of the place were frightened to death for fear the Indians would come in and take the town.

Dad bought a farm in Missouri, on the Kansas line, and we stayed there a couple of years. The year of the Chicago Fire, he traded a farm he owned in Iowa for Denver property and moved his family here. Later, father acquired title to the place where the Denver City Park is now. It was then an open prairie.

The fall of 1873, I got a job as common help working with the Rio Grande Engineering Corps. They would build only a few miles of road a year and I worked for The Engineering Company when it was working. I got a job with H.R. Holbrook on the Engineering Corps of the Pueblo and Salt Lake Railroad, but I later went back to the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande Engineering Corps was hunting low passes for the road to file on those locations ahead of them. Jim Baker was our guide. I was as far as Holbrook, Lee’s Ferry and Santa Fe. I came through this country and saw there was lots of grass.

F.B. King saw the chance to do well with cattle here, and he said he would buy the cattle if I would run them. He got the money and bought 800 hundred head, and I was on Pine River until 1879. I worked for King for nine years altogether.

In 1879, the range over there was eaten out, and I started to the Blue Mountains in Utah with the cattle. When I arrived and had turned the cattle loose, the Indians told me to get out. The men had left me, so the Indians helped me to round them up and bring the cattle out again. I met a couple of men from the San Luis Valley with cattle and told them of the situation out west. We turned all the cattle loose here on the Dolores, and I have been here ever since.

It was very dry that year of 1879. There was a little water out at Cross Canon and enough in Dove Creek to wet a few doves. You could walk across the Dolores on the ripple, but there was water standing in holes. It was the last of July or the first of August when I brought those cattle back here.

At that time, Billy May had the place where William Ritter now lives. When I was working for F.B. King over on LaVeta Pass, I met Billy May. He was a surveyor but had no instruments to speak of. He wanted this country out here subdivided. The government would not put up any money but told him he could do the subdividing and take his pay in land. He paid his own men and took land as directed. Billy ran the lines for this township. I once had a job with the engineers who subdivided South Park, which takes in Holy Cross Mountain and it took eight months.

I think Luther Rogers, who lives on Jack Lynton’s place, was here in 1879. He and his brothers came here to trap. The brothers went out every year, but he stayed on. Sherman Phelps came here in 1880 and homesteaded 160 acres in December 1890. His land was the town sight of Dolores. Crumleys came in 1880, and she was postmistress for a while. Things were pretty quiet here that year, and I just looked after the stock.

(Erastus Thompson came in 1879 and homesteaded 160 acres in 1890. His property may have been in the area of Second Street and Central.)

I have reason to believe that a colony of people from Nevada came here in 1872 and built cabins every half or three quarters of a mile for about eight miles along the Dolores here. Probably the Indians ran them off. An old cabin on the place I had on the river stood in some cottonwoods. It had the name of George Dunn and the date 1873 written in it in pencil. I moved the old cabin and tried to save it, but it is gone now. There is one on the Wilbur ranch. The series of cabins extended seven or eight miles about town. One, called the “burnt cabin” was where Becher’s are just above town. (Becher family lived in the area of the Elementary School or about 11th Street and Central per family member). There were similar cabins on the Jim Hammond place. (Chuck Hammond said Jim’s place was in the area of the Dolores fire station).

The Nevada colony intended to homestead, but there were trappers here too before they were.

June Head is the Historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. Contact her at 970-565-3880 for questions or corrections.

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